River Cruising on the Big Muddy:
New Queen of the Mississippi Launches
(American Cruise Lines' new 150-passenger Queen of the Mississippi is now sailing America's heartland rivers.*)
By Deborah Burst
Mark Twain would be proud. "Someday, they’ll build the biggest steamboat the world has ever known; and she’ll be long, white and gleaming in the sunshine," he said. "And that one shall be called the Queen of the Mississippi.”
While she's not the largest (as compared with competitor American Queen), the 150-passenger Queen of the Mississippi definitely is the newest authentic sternwheeler on the river.
She's also long, white and gleaming. And she certainly has the appropriate name.
Most importantly, she brings a new excitement to the river -- with extremely spacious accommodations that are a minimum of 300 square feet. Staterooms and suites also have private balconies.
Launched this past week by small-ship operator American Cruise Lines (www.americancruiseslines.com), the new river boat is home ported in New Orleans.
As the year progresses, however, she'll sail voyages throughout America's heartland river system including journeys on the Ohio and Tennessee rivers.
Built by Chesapeake Shipbuilding of Salisbury, Maryland, Queen of the Mississippi is the first paddlewheeler built for the Mississippi in nearly 20 years.
(In the photo above, Queen of the Mississippi sails on the Mississippi River in Louisiana.*)
What's my personal take on the ship? She boasts a regal presence and the charm of a 19th century plantation graced with 21st century amenities.
If you're planning to sail, you'll find gleaming woodwork, brass fixtures and petite chandeliers as well as New Orleans-themed artwork and furniture from the French Quarter. Guests are served by a crew of 50.
(A spacious balcony stateroom such as the one shown above, is the perfect way to enjoy southern scenery while sailing the Mississippi River. *)
Queen of the Mississippi offers four decks of staterooms. Again, this ship stands out as all staterooms are a minimum of 300 square feet, extremely large by river cruise standards. All have expansive river views.
One nice perk? Cabins on the second, third and fourth decks have private balconies; those on the third and fourth deck have glass doors leading to the balconies.
Guests may choose twin, full or king sized beds. Staterooms have crisp white linen bedding and carpeting with splashes of color.
Each stateroom provides a seating area complete with wrap-around chairs and a coffee table, desk, dresser, night stands and a small closet with ample space for clothes.
More richly appointed Owner Suites range from 350 square feet to 600 square feet when booked with a connecting double stateroom.
Suites are decorated with warm woods and wainscoting panels along the walls. A colorful bed ensemble blends with vintage style furniture.
The suite living areas are comprised of a full sofa, chairs, coffee table and end tables.
Every stateroom or suite offers a private, hotel-style bathroom with a shower, toilet and vanity with slate blue countertops.
(A king bed stateroom with a private balcony is shown at left.*)
All guests enjoy complimentary room service, ship-wide WiFi Internet access, satellite TV, and in-room phones to make calls between staterooms and onboard venues.
To view the Queen of the Mississippi's deck plan, here's a link from the cruise line: http://www.americancruiselines.com/ships/Queen-of-the-Mississippi
Dining on the River
On the main deck, the Grand Dining Room serves lunch and dinner for all guests. There is no assigned seating. Guests choose with whom they choose to dine.
The dining room has touches that reflect some of New Orleans most distinguished restaurants with soothing mint and rose colored décor.
(Shown above, the Main Dining Room on Queen of the Mississippi resembles some of the fine dining spots in New Orleans and serves diverse southern cuisine and American favorites.*)
Flanked with full views of the river, diners sit at linen-draped tables and savor cuisine reflective of the Mississippi River region. Chefs prepare locally sourced ingredients.
The ship has a different menu daily with a first course, entree and dessert. Cruisers might find everything from Memphis barbecue to southern specialties, from New Orleans Cajun cuisine to American favorites on the menus.
American Cruise Lines offers free beer and wine (unlimited) at lunch and dinner, as well as a complimentary pre-dinner cocktail hour.
For casual dining, the Top Deck Cafe is the place to be for an outdoor barbecue or lunch in the fresh air, weather permitting. The cafe will offer hot and cold beverages, light snacks and pastries throughout the day.
(The cheery Sky Lounge, a casual cafe that serves light fare and refreshments, is shown in the photos above and below right.*)
The line will also have a moving cafe cart, which will make its way around the ship.
The interior Sky Lounge also has light fare -- such as sandwiches, pastries and refreshments.
If you'd like to enjoy a genteel southern tradition, then show up for the traditional tea service every afternoon at Sky Lounge.
During a recent media luncheon New Orleans journalists gave high marks to the river boat's food and ambiance.
Relaxation and Entertainment
Queen of Mississippi provides an enriching onboard experience in its six spacious lounges and libraries.
To get an authentic feel of the river, guests should head to the Paddlewheel Lounge. Not surprisingly, it yields views of the ship's massive spinning paddlewheel.
This lounge has comfortable sofas and chairs. It's a place to "sink into" with a good book and good conversation. This is also the ship's hot spot for the evening cocktail hour.
(Comfortable seating awaits at the Paddlewheel Lounge.*)
If outdoor relaxation is more your style, you can rock away in the back deck's rocking chairs and watch the paddlewheel churn.
On the Sun Deck, which extends the length of the top deck, guests will find lounge chairs, patio tables and a small putting green.
For fitness buffs, the line has a small exercise facility with river views.
One themed venue, the Mark Twain Library and Chart Room on Deck 3, gives travelers a nostalgic sense of the river and global exploration. I was fascinated by a wood table engraved with a world map.
Nearby an antique chess table offers guests a challenging game of chess. All around, book cases are filled with treasure troves of books, chart maps and board games.
On Deck 2, the Magnolia Lounge can accommodate all 150 guests and can be configured to a theater or dance venue, depending on the entertainment.
Onboard, guests might head to the Magnolia Lounge, just to relax or listen to New Orleans jazz, Nashville country or Memphis blues, depending on the cruise itinerary and sailing date.
In addition, “we have a constant stream of lecturers on board, every night there’s always something going on, sometimes two things in one night," says Charles Robertson (shown in the photo at left.*), chairman and CEO, American Cruise Lines
On every cruise, historians or naturalists lecture about local culture and destinations. They point out landmarks and wildlife.
Dedicated Riverlorians share the river’s legends and lore. And culinary fans might attend a cooking demonstration if they wish to bring home a local recipe.
Cruisers can -- in mindset at least -- drift back to a bygone 1800s era when Mississippi River boats, both cargo and showboats, plied the Big Muddy.
Queen of the Mississippi's cruises travel to such southern sites as Oak Alley Plantation (shown in the photo at right*) in St. Francisville, Dixie’s iconic historic cities and Civil War battlefields from New Orleans to Vicksburg and beyond.
Cruisers eager for a taste of blues, barbecue and visions of Elvis at Graceland might consider a cruise from St. Louis to Memphis.
A St. Louis roundtrip cruise even hosts an appropriately clad Mark Twain, who will share stories of his days as a riverboat pilot. Naturally, the vessel makes a stop in his hometown of Hannibal, MO.
American Cruise Lines, based in Guilford, CT, is an experienced American-flagged line with a large fleet of small ship vessels; it operates throughout coastal North America including the eastern Atlantic coast, the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and now within the South and America's heartland.
The line's past guests are continually seeking new itineraries; many book their next cruise before the leave the ship on each cruise.
From Robertson's perspective, the perks of the Queen of the Mississippi are clear. Top-notch service, a robust mix of public areas for guests,and more square footage per person than any other boat on the Mississippi River are big draws.
Those seeking a relaxing cruise on the Mississippi or other heartland rivers now have yet another choice to consider.
(As shown in the photo at left, scenic shorelines are often within easy view of guests onboard Queen of the Mississippi.*)
Queen of the Mississippi delivers a sense of time and place when America was young, the river was king, and river boats transported travelers along America's water highways.
Now, in a way, the Mississippi is doing so again for vacationers. Mark Twain likely would be pleased.
For more information, visit www.americancruiselines.com.
About the Author: An award winning freelance writer and photographer, Deborah Burst is a New Orleans native specializing in outdoor travel, culinary culture and historical architecture. Having penned more than 1,000 published articles, her work appears in local, regional and national publications. A graduate of Tulane University, she co-founded the Northshore Literary Society and is a member of the Southeastern Press Association and Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association.
*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used courtesy of Deborah Burst, American Cruise Lines, Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, and Jonathan Bachman/Invision for American Cruise Lines/AP Images. All rights reserved; please do not copy or link to these photos. Thank you.